Black Identity in I, Too

The poem, I, Too by Langston Hughes was published in 1926 but first seen in his book, “The Weary Blues” in 1925. It is a rather short, free verse poem of five stanzas, opening and closing with similar one line sentence, and using simple language throughout. The poem is only five sentences in total, but covers two events, today and tomorrow, and two places, the kitchen and the table. The narrator of the poem creates black narrative and exposes the African-American identity within the oppressive dominant white culture of America. More powerfully, it captivates the history of slavery and oppression that creates systems of racial inequality and denied blacks their rights. The poem uses an exemplary event of the unfair treatment of a person because of their darker skin complexion to comment on the racism that plagues our nation. When the poem emerged in 1926, the Great Migration (high rate relocation of African-Americans from Southern states to the North), The Chicago race riots (the lynching of blacks), and Jim Crow (state and local laws that legally separated the South), painted the racially divided climate of the US.

In the Poem, I, Too, the narrator is sent to the kitchen to eat his food alone by an authority figure when people come to visit who all eat together at the table. The narrator does as told but claims that he will not be in the kitchen in the future. Through the use of commas, Hughes expressed his feelings towards racism and comments on the racially discriminating state of our nation.

Hughes writes,

                                                                    “I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.”           

 

 

 

The use of commas in this quote forces the reader to slow down and take in the actions of the narrator. The commas show the continuation of the unfair treatment because the commas combined with the word “grow strong” shows the longevity and multiplicity of times he was had to eat in the kitchen because he is “the darker brother.” The commas also allow for the tone shift through the lines as well as stanzas of the poem. The tone shift from one of anger to one of strength through the use of the commas because the commas allows for the poem to be read like blues music, filled with sorrow and anger, but finding the beauty by finding its worth like the narrator does. Commas produce this effect because it showcases the narrator’s growth and emotions. The commas allow us to get a whole picture view of the changes the narrator goes through after being banished to the kitchen such as the, “But I laugh,” that is followed by the, “And eat well,” then him saying, “And grow strong.” He is not allowing for his banishment to the kitchen to keep him down, but rather laughs and thinks of the future when he is stronger and can escape the segregation that has been forced on him. The commas also produces a contrast between not being able to eat at the table juxtaposed to his claim of his, “tomorrow(‘s)” right to eat at that table. His perseverance and resilience in self authorizing that he will be at the table comes through because of the use of commas showing that he is not accepting his current situation.

  The vagueness in the setting of time in the poem (today and tomorrow), showcases how whether or not it takes place during slavery or post-slavery, the remaining effects of oppression and unequal treatment of blacks is still present and draining in the American society. Moving on, the narrator claims his liberation and argues for unification at the table. He is claiming his right to feel included and equal as a citizen in America. He is disapproving the idea that equality is based on race, or more specifically that you have to be white or of a lighter skin complexion to be fairly treated.

Through his poem, Hughes makes a declaration of freedom for blacks and stands against the oppression and cruel treatment of slaves as if they aren’t equal human beings. The narrator’s fight still remains true and ongoing in American society today because we still see ongoing movements and suffrage for racial equality and freedom. The Black Lives Movement is a 21st century visual representation of the poem and the theme of Freedom that it demands. This theme of freedom rings through in Hughes other works of poetry such as, “Let America be America Again” and “Montage of a Dream Deferred.” Malcolm X said, “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” Parallel with Hughes message, Blacks are demanding their freedom in all pursuits, but more than just demanding it, they are taking it  peacefully or via force.

B6.

Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. “I, Too by Langston Hughes.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 1926, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47558/i-too.

Tolnay, Stewart (2003). “The African American ‘Great Migration’ and Beyond”. Annual Review of Sociology. 29: 209–232. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.29.010202.100009. JSTOR 30036966.

Michael O. Emerson, Christian Smith (2001). “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”. p. 42. Oxford University Press.

“Malcolm X Quotes.” BrainyQuote.com. BrainyMedia Inc, 2019. 19 April 2019. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/malcolm_x_387554

Jigari Dost

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie is a 2017 novel depicting the journeys of several contemporary characters through living as a Muslim in the 21st century. The novel thus far has followed the characters of Isma, Eamonn, and Parvaiz as they navigate the intersections between their Muslim and British identities. In the novel, Parvaiz has been recruited into ISIS by Farooq, an individual who he encounters in his London neighborhood. Farooq allured Parvaiz with his claims of the equity that joining ISIS would provide him, and upon his arrival in Istanbul, Parvaiz appreciated the beauty of the sky-high minarets and general atmosphere of his new environment. However, upon being exposed to the brutality of life as a recruit, he develops a desire to return to his home in England. All the while, his sister Aneeka worries profusely about Parvaiz, while Isma wants no part of her brother’s life. Parvaiz’s section of the novel concludes with his approaching the British consulate in an attempt to secure a pass to England.

On page 137, Parvaiz describes his relationship with Farooq: “Parvaiz sipped the tea — too weak — and looked around the flat, trying to find any further clues to his yaar’s life. The Urdu word came closer than ‘friend’ to explaining how he thought of Farooq. Or even better, jigari dost — a friendship so deep that it was lodged within you, could not be cut out without leaving a profound, perhaps fatal, wound.” By using the phrase “jigari dost,” Parvaiz evokes a feeling of intimacy and connection that is partially incomprehensible to the reader. Presumably, the reader of the novel does not know Urdu, and thus this phrase is not familiar to them. By using a non-English phrase to define Parvaiz’s perception of Farooq, Shamsie is defining Parvaiz’s perception of Farooq as something that can not be readily understood by the reader, as the language itself is not readily understood by the reader. The use of an non-English phrase further signifies Parvaiz’s internal transition to defining himself as more Muslim than British by creating a divide between the reader’s understanding of Parvaiz’s British life and his life in ISIS. This transition, of course, is defined by the radicalized Farooq, and should not be interpreted to indicate that a Muslim identity is synonymous with a terrorist affiliation or that a Muslim identity is incompatible with a British identity. Parvaiz’s perception of Farooq as a friend that “could not be cut out without leaving a profound, perhaps fatal wound” however, enforces that Farooq is the primary factor that is defining Parvaiz’s identity at this point in the novel. This effect is significant because it shows that Farooq is tempting Parvaiz to entirely discard all elements of his identity that do not fit within the expectations of his group. Specifically, we can see that Parvaiz feels pressured by Farooq to discard his British identity. Parvaiz feels, as a result of Farooq’s guidance, that his British identity is incompatible with his Muslim identity, and therefore, it must be discarded.

B3

Works Cited

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017.

What’s in a Name?

How do we make our identities evident to those around us? One of the ways is through our name. My name, for example, Heidi, showcases my American identity while my last name, Kim, showcases my Asian identity. In Kamila Shamsie’s Homefire (2017), the Muslim and British identities intersect in Karamat Lone’s son’s name, Eammon. Eammon’s name showcases how the Muslim identity shadows the British identity, portraying the British identity as dominant.

Shamsie illustrates the intersection of British and Muslim identities through the character of Eammon, Karamat Lones’s son. In the first chapter told from Isma’s perspective, she notices a young Muslim man who looks like Home Secretary Karamat Lone, but soon finds out that the young man is his son, Eammon. Before approaching him, Isma’s thought process explains that Eammon’s name had been changed from “Ayman” to “Eammon” so people would understand that his father, Karamat, “had integrated” and further depict his father’s “integrationist posing” (Shamsie 16).

Shamsie’s use of the words “integrated” and “integrationist” implies that in order for the Muslim identity to be considered equal, it must be combined with the British identity. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines  “integration” as “incorporation as equals into society or an organization of individuals of different groups” (Merriam-Webster). Through Eammon’s name change and the context behind it, it depicts that the Muslim identity is one that is inferior and must be combined with the British identity in order for it to be considered equal. Additionally, it portrays the integration of the Muslim and British identities as a positive thing, rather than a negative thing for needing to adjust one’s personal identity to fit the confines of another.

In using the words “integration” and “integrationist” in consecutive sentences, it reiterates how important it is to identify more as British than Muslim. Using the word “integration” instead of the word “assimilation” indicates the combining of the two identities rather than the complete removal of one identity. If Shamsie had used the word “assimilation” instead of “integration”, it would then seem as if identifying as Muslim is unacceptable. In using the word “integration”, it depicts the adjusting of one’s identity rather than completely eradicating it.

Shamsie’s use of the words “integration” and “integrationist” is significant because it depicts how the changing or adjusting of one’s identity is evident through a generation and the importance of showcasing the combining of identities. It informs the reader of how the British identity is the identity that is the more outstanding than the Muslim identity.

 

Works Cited

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017

B3.

Interrogating Identity–Literally

The word “identity” is often thrown around as if it is something constant that everyone has. However, identity can be incredibly difficult to navigate. In her novel Home Fire (2017), Kamila Shamsie tells the story of the Pasha siblings, who are British, Muslim, and orphaned. Parvaiz, twin of Aneeka and the only boy of the siblings, falls for ISIS propaganda because he feels lost, longs for a connection to his dead father, and because the racism and anti-Muslim violence of Britain make it difficult for him to construct an identity as a British Muslim. In Parvaiz’s narrative, Shamsie uses rhetorical questions to illustrate what Parvaiz comes to feel is the irreconcilability of the United Kingdom’s history of violence against Muslim people and British Muslim identity.

After he learns that his eldest sister, Isma, will be moving to America and selling the family home, Parvaiz drifts under the influence of Farooq, an older ISIS fighter who seeks to recruit him. In the process of recruiting Parvaiz, Farooq asks him a series of rhetorical questions that target Parvaiz’s precarious sense of national and religious identity.

M15 officers were present at Bagram, Farooq told him, and showed him evidence to corroborate that. Your government, the one that took taxes from your family and claimed to represent the people, knew what was going on. How can you live in this place, accepting, after all that you now know? How can you live in this mirage of democracy and freedom? What kind of man are you, what kind of son are you? (Shamsie 150-1)

These questions contain their own answers. By calling Parvaiz’s home “this place,” Farooq distances him from it. By juxtaposing his connection to Britain with Britain’s histories of violence and a lack of masculinity and family loyalty, Farooq makes it impossible for Parvaiz to answer that he can live in Britain. This quote is part of Parvaiz’s third-person internal monologue, which shows how Farooq’s questions have entered his mind and begun to shape every aspect of how he sees the world.

Farooq’s questions also get at a true inconsistency in Parvaiz’s supposed citizenship and belonging. Although Farooq’s intentions are manipulative, many of the images and facts that he presents to Parvaiz are accurate. Britain does participate in torture abroad, and racism at home. By presenting questions that contain their own answers, Shamsie demonstrates how untenable British Muslim identity is for Parvaiz.

 

Works Cited

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017.

B3

Identity, Unchained

We are only as strong as our weakest link. In Kamila Shamsie’s novel Home Fire (2017), she explores the way in which a fragmented and broken identity can wreak havoc on ones self and their relationships with others. One of the main characters in the novel, Parvaiz, delves into his Muslim Identity, although he is British and considers him self a Muslim and a Londoner, the exploration of his islamic identity and his understanding of the islamic state brings him closer to his father, affords him a sense of freedom from the doubts he has never confronted, but tears him away from his family. He looses the sense of security he once felt with the duality of his identity and allows his Muslim identity to overtake his British identity, leading him to make life altering decisions.

As Parvaiz builds a bond with Farooq, a member of an extremist group he begins to feel closer to his father and gain an understanding of the significance of his Muslim identity. Upon entering Farooq’s apartment Parvaiz finds himself chained and waterboarded, as a means to simulate the torture his father had to endure. After Farooq frees him form he chains and lets Parvaiz leave he feels a sense of peace and solace despite the physical pain he has endured. He feels closer too his father, and feels a yearning to pursue a career in the Islamic state for it gives him a sense of connection to his father, and gives him the feeling of brotherhood and security. On his return home he notices the sound of a “wedding ring against a yellow hand rail” which Shamsie likens to “chains unlinking.” In likening the sound to “chains unlinking” Shamsie highlights the impact of the ordeal Parvaiz has endured, but simultaneously uses the imagery created by the disassembly of chain links to connote the sense of freedom Parvaiz has gained. He feels free from doubt as he has come to understand more about his father, but he also feels free from uncertainty about his identity. He embraces the muslim identity he had kept locked away out of fear, and he had suppressed his faith with his British identity, as he had never explored his connection to Islam because of his father and because of the way in which he felt persecuted in British society. Whilst this metaphor signifies a significant revelation for Parvaiz, it also symbolizes the close bond between him and his sisters being broken. As his revelation and the breaking of chains foreshadows his disassociation from his siblings when he leaves England to join the extremist group his father was a part of.

Shamsie’s use of this metaphor in conjunction with the use of foreshadowing highlights the way in which Parvaiz’s identity takes him from a whole man, to a fragmented and broken man. Like a chain, it is only as strong as its links. In the convergence of his two conflicting identities, his newfound understanding for his islamic identity breaks him apart from his British identity, and separates him from his sisters who embrace both identities as one, rather than two conflicting halves. Shamsie demonstrates the impact of conflicting identities throughout the development of Parvaiz’s character, and uses her craft to highlight the detrimental impact of conflicting identities.

 

By Caroline Berezin

Works Cited

Shamsie, Kamila. Home Fire. Riverhead Books, 2017.

Blog Post #3